Your eye will catch familiar words like pierogi, kiełbasa, and restaurancja. Tools like Google and Yelp have made it easier to do a quick search to find a place that can satisfy your craving. Yet, I’ve often found that finding good food when you’re hungry in a foreign country can be a little more complicated. Language barriers are tricky to navigate, and while fellow travelers might take the time to write a review, locals don’t always post about their favorite spots. Sometimes occasions call for a full restaurant, but other times you’ll simply want a more casual snack, or meal. If you don’t know the key words to look for in a particular foreign language, you could go hungry!
If you seek real, delicious Polish cuisine, you must know how to read the signs. So what I have for you here, are some key words to look for, and places you’ll find the best, most authentic, delicious, hunger-satisfying Polish food in Poland. No matter what sort of food-mood you’re in.
Head to the Bar
“Bar” in Poland does not mean your local dive. It stands for bar mleczny, or “milk bar”, which are cafeteria-style restaurants you’ll find all over the country, serving delicious, homey, Polish food. They arose during the Soviet era as government subsidized lunch counters, where people could get an affordable meal. Now privately owned, the idea is still the same today, and bar mleczny are some of the best places to grab a satisfying, casual Polish meal. You’ll see plenty of lunch counters open for sniadania and obiad (breakfast and lunch). Simply search for a sign that says “bar”!
Find a table at the inn
If you’re seeking more of a leisurely dining experience. Look for Karczma and Gospoda. These translate to “inn” and are most commonly a sit-down restaurant where you can enjoy a full-menu, gourmet, Polish meal. Polish cuisine is hearty fare. You’ll want to go all-in, so bring your biggest appetite! Start with a soup, end with a sweet-treat, fill in the middle with yummy Polish entrees and of course, wash it down with a glass of piwo or wino. One of my favorites is potato pancake topped with goulash. It can be called a couple different names, look for “Placki Ziemniaczane po…” on the menu. Do some research, or ask your server for recommendations on regional specialties!
Look for Zapiekanka and Tosty. These can be found everywhere. At street-side food stands, at to-go restaurant counters inside the indoor/outdoor markets in cities, and at festivals. I noticed they were especially popular at the beach. Zapiekanka are open faced pizzas on a baguette. Tosty are grilled sandwiches, similar to grilled cheese, with lots of options for filling. When you’re really on the go, you can also find these at gas stations, which I must mention because this is where you will find my absolute favorite quick-bite in Poland. . . Orlen gas station hot dogs.
When you don’t feel like eating out, but also don’t feel like cooking. . .
Poland has you covered. Look for Kurczak Rodzina and Pierogarnia, both places where you can grab a full meal to take back to the vacation rental and feed the fam. Kurczak Rodzina literally translates to “chicken family”, but I think more accurately to “chicken for your family”. I also see them called Kurczak z Rozna, which translates to a straightforward, “roast chicken”. These little roasting huts are open to the sidewalk and are where you can pick up the best rotisserie chicken of your life to take home for dinner. Order a whole, half, or part of a chicken and frytki (fries) for a meal that will please everyone, especially you, since you didn’t go to any trouble at all to cook it.
Pierogarnia are kind of like deli counters where you’ll find fresh pierogies to take home and cook for dinner. Usually, you’ll find other yummy dishes like gołabki, krokiety, and even potato pancakes to bring home as well. These are all ready-made and simply require you to heat them. On nights I don’t feel like cooking, I like to pan-fry pierogies in butter, and then tip them into a bowl and drizzle the brown butter from the pan over top. Takes about three minutes and dinner is on the table. Yum.
Remember Lody and Gofry
These are very important words, so pay attention. Lody is Polish for ice cream. I’ve never seen more ice cream than I have in Poland. Lody counters are everywhere and you can order it either by the scoop, or as irresistible frozen creations. Gofry are big, soft waffles usually covered with sweet toppings like whipped cream and chocolate, fruit or, candy. Quite often these are served in the same place, so look for signs that say “lody gofry” when your sweet tooth is asking for something. Chances are good there’s a shop serving these treats right around the corner.
Your daily bread…and cake
Instead of one word “bakery” to define a place to buy baked goods. Polish divides this into two categories. A Piekarnia is a bakery that bakes bread. A Cukiernia is where you’ll find confectionary treats like cakes, usually with coffee served, and of course, a lody counter. You’ll often, but not always, find these combined, so just look for a sign that says “piekarnia cukiernia” for your daily bread and dose of carbs. Polish baked goods tend to be less sweet and rich than bakery treats in the States, so you can indulge with a little less guilt. In fact, no matter where you are, don’t ever feel guilty for indulging! Sernik is Polish cheesecake and you shouldn’t leave Poland without treating yourself to at least one slice. Look for seasonal flavors like summer blueberry!
For your health
If you simply want a piece of fresh fruit, or a vegetable to help balance all the heavy Polish food, you could pop into a grocery store. But, for the freshest, cheapest, and best produce, instead of the grocery store, look for fruit and vegetable shops marked with the words “Owoce Warszewo”. These little stores are located throughout neighborhoods. Simply grab a basket, fill it up, bring it to the counter for weighing, pay and go! You’ll also see in-season fruit and veggie carts outside of shopping malls, and in parking lots. Right now, there are irresistible strawberry stands selling baskets of fresh, sun-ripened strawberries.
Polish food is delicious, homey and comforting. You definitely want to make the most of your time in Poland by eating as much of it as you can while you’re here. So pack your stretchy pants. I hope this guide helps you find what you’re looking for to satisfy your appetite, and prevent hanger from setting in! Read more on dining in Poland in my guide to common, and not-so-common Polish foods here! Smacznego!
As always, tag me in all ExploreMoreCo related adventures on Instagram @exploremore.co
See ya out there!
Ps. If you’re really hungry and need a snack, look for a Zabka store. The Polish 7-11 equivalent